The implementation of a ban on single-use plastic products in Egypt's Red Sea province, home to world-renowned beach destinations, has taken effect, according to the provincial governor, in a revolutionary step for a country where the environment suffers from apathy and negligence.
Governor Ahmed Abdullah said on Wednesday that supermarkets, grocery stores and other commercial outlets in the province have diligently observed the ban since it came into force on June 1.
"We have distributed to residents paper bags free of charge to use when they go shopping," the governor said in a WhatsApp message to The National.
The Red Sea province has kept Egypt's vital tourism sector afloat, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists when political upheavals and violence in Cairo kept away visitors in the years that followed a popular uprising in 2011.
The ban, the first of its kind in Egypt, was inspired by a memorandum presented to authorities by a voluntary environmental group on the dangers of plastic to both humans and marine life. The ban provides an expanded set of regulations on the use of single-use plastic products that was first announced in 2008 but was never properly implemented.
The ban comes at a time when Egypt is experiencing with great relief a steady rise in the number of foreign visitors after years of slumping following the 2011 uprising. Much of that traffic is going to the Red Sea region, home to popular beach and water sports resorts like El Gouna, Sahl Hasheesh, Hurghada, Soma Bay, Safaga and Marsa Alam.
Their rich and diverse marine life and golden sand beaches may hold the key to the future of tourism in Egypt, a country of 100 million people whose international image as a safe destination occasionally suffers by attacks blamed on radical Islamist militants. The ban on single-use plastic products in the Red Sea region could only enhance the reputation of the resorts and make them more attractive as the number of environmentally-aware tourists grow globally.
The ban applies to restaurants, supermarkets, grocery stores, pharmacies and cruise and leisure ships that dock off the shores of the Red Sea province. Hotels are not yet included, but most of them are already voluntarily observing the ban, which covers products like spoons, forks, knives, cups, dishes as well as bags.